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In my last post, I wrote about my headphones, a piece of technology that has helped me to cope with my brain’s difficulty screening out distractions to focus on a single task, which I see as one of my Asperger’s traits. (In fact, I’m using those headphones to listen to movie soundtracks right now as I write this post!)

This time, I want to write about another technology that I used to find very helpful in allowing me to make and hold on to social connections: social media, specifically Facebook. Unfortunately, while my headphones have gotten better over the past several years (they’re wireless!), Facebook has steadily gotten worse, to the point that I made a decision to simply stop using it in 2016, when it became clear that the negatives outweighed the positives.

One of the effects of my Asperger’s syndrome is that I have always lagged behind my peers in developing social skills. I want to form friendships and connections with people, but participating in a conversation is an exercise in interpreting the nonverbal signals that others seem to pick up and give off naturally, while trying to orchestrate my own behavior so that I approximate the correct nonverbal signals myself. It can be exhausting, and it can leave me frustrated, when I finish a conversation and realize that I didn’t talk about anything of consequence, and I don’t even remember the other people’s names.

Communication on the Internet is a godsend for people like me. I can plan out my words before saying them, with no body language or tone of voice to interfere. Social media puts the person’s name right there along with a picture of them, allowing me to learn to recognize people in a way that fits my learning style. On Facebook, I was able to form connections with other people close to my age at our church– once, we got together to go to a local folk music festival, and I had a great time. I still think of it every time I hear Sierra Hull’s music. I was able to hear from the people at my church throughout the week and get an idea of the things they enjoyed, cared about, and prayed about.

I was able to stay in touch with acquaintances from college– from Cedarville, Texas Tech, and Cincinnati. They had moved on to all walks of life– farmers, professors, social workers, bloggers, mothers and fathers. Some went into the ministry, and some now looked back at the teachings we’d received in the name of Christ with a critical eye. I was enriched by both.

Probably the neatest thing that Facebook allowed me to do was to reconnect with my friends from Bloomsburg Christian School in Pennsylvania. I’ve written about how I’ve come to realize what a special group of kids they were. Almost everybody I meet or read about who grew up with Asperger’s syndrome recalls middle and high school as a time of bullying they just had to endure and eventually heal from. I was a weird kid– I sometimes did off-putting things, not even realizing I was doing them. A lot of the time, I didn’t seek out friendships because I wasn’t ready to expand my world beyond what made sense to me. But rather than pick on me, my classmates actually protected me from bullying. They let me be myself. And when I finally did begin to open up, they accepted me and included me.

I really enjoyed getting to see where God had led many of them, and sharing in their trials and joys by praying for them. It was also only because of our reconnection on Facebook that we ended up planning our 13-year class reunion, which I wrote about on this blog.

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I’m enjoying the new headphones I ordered online last week!  I’m using them right now to listen to music as I work on this post.  It occurred to me that they are suited to me for a couple of reasons related to my personality as well as my Asperger’s syndrome.

The first thing you have to understand about me is that music helps me concentrate.  I’m hypersensitive to all of the sensory input that distracts me from focusing on a task, whether that’s my copyediting work or a project I’m trying to complete for my own enjoyment.

These headphones are the kind that cover my ears, muffling outside sound and allowing me to listen to a soundtrack of music that I know and enjoy.  (They aren’t noise-cancelling like the ones my brother has, both because I didn’t want to spend that much on headphones and because if I wore noise-cancelling headphones, my parents might never be able to get my attention when they need me to help with something!)  ; )

But being able to listen to music makes a huge difference to me in my ability to work.  (I find it also helps me to concentrate when I’m driving.)  It’s like it drowns out all of the noise I normally have to deal with, allowing me to keep a narrower focus on what’s in front of me.  The only limitation I’ve found is that when I do editing, I usually need to limit myself to music without lyrics, because otherwise the lyrics of the songs slow down my ability to think about the sentence structure and wording of the article I’m editing.

The second reason I’m loving these headphones is that they are bluetooth-enabled, which means that I don’t need to use a cord.  And that’s perfect for me, because I’m clumsy.  Which I prefer to blame on my Asperger’s syndrome, although it could be that I’m just naturally clumsy anyway.  : )

There’s plenty of evidence.  About a year ago, I managed to crack the bones of each of my elbows in the space of six months– one when I slipped walking down a single step into our garage, the other when I tripped over my own feet trying to walk up a single step from a parking lot onto the sidewalk.  The belt loops on many of my blue jeans are torn because I managed to get them caught on the knobs of kitchen drawers.

And a major factor in needing new headphones was that I kept getting the cord caught on things, causing damage both to the cord itself and to the port where it plugs in to my computer.  My desire to use the music as an uninterrupted soundtrack led me to carry my laptop around with me when I needed to go to the door to let the dogs in or out.  And my clumsiness ensured that I would get the cord caught on a lamp, yanking the headphones off my head or pulling the plug out of my computer.  Now I don’t have to do that anymore!  I can leave the computer on a table and walk away, and the headphones will keep on playing!

They say that one of the ways we grow is by understanding and accepting our weaknesses as well as our strengths, and planning for them.  I guess I’m happy to be doing that in some small way by using my new cordless headphones.

shuri1

King T’Challa (played by Chadwick Boseman) and Princess Shuri (Letitia Wright) in Black Panther.

This is a post that my girlfriend Megan suggested I make after I told her about one of my favorite characters from Marvel’s Black Panther film, which I saw a few days ago. Both Megan and I have the Asperger’s trait of having extremely focused, almost obsessive interests in learning about technical things. Even when I was little, I loved to collect and categorize information about geography and astronomy, while Megan would study a specific period of history or the grammar and syntax rules of an unfamiliar language. We both enjoy video games and working with computers.

When I was growing up, I had the niche of being “nerdy” to fit into. I didn’t know anything about Asperger’s, but I knew it wasn’t that unusual to be nerdy and into technical things. But until recently, the “nerd” stereotype seemed to only be applied to boys. There wasn’t much of a “niche” for Megan to fit into aside from being the “shy girl.”

But that seems to be changing! I’ve noticed a number of examples of technically-minded girls in recent popular movies and other media. I think that’s a great trend– hopefully examples like these can inspire more girls to have fun learning about the technical side of things.

 

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I’ve had a tough time getting started on this post. It’s another reflection on the book Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate by Cynthia Kim, and this time the topic is bullying.

I’m not sure if it’s difficult for me to write about because I don’t have a lot of personal experience with being bullied, or if it’s just because it’s such an unpleasant topic in general.

What’s interesting about Cynthia Kim’s story is that she experienced bullying from both sides. In elementary and middle school, she was picked on by the children in her class– they made fun of her, took her things, and in one case the biggest boy in class cornered her in a coatroom and kissed her against her wishes. For a while, she didn’t know what to do about it aside from trying to hide.

But eventually, Kim found a different way to respond– becoming a bully herself. If she could focus people’s attention on making fun of someone else, it meant that she was no longer the target. She explains that she was able to identify who to pick on, because they looked just like she used to when she was the target of bullies herself.

I thought there was a very Aspie-like honesty about Kim’s account of becoming a bully. She doesn’t attempt to excuse her own behavior– she knows it was wrong and hurtful– even when she was doing it, she knew it was wrong. It just came naturally to her. And then, as she grew older, the bullying behavior gradually faded away, along with her friendships with the other “mean girls.”

When you’re a kid, both you and everyone around you is learning social skills at the same time, and one of the things we all have to learn is how easy it is to hurt others by what we say and do.

It makes me think of how I probably treated others rudely without realizing it when I was growing up, and later I had to trust that God would give them grace to forgive or to forget my mistakes. I don’t think I ever bullied anyone, but there were certainly times when I felt relieved that someone other than myself was being teased.

One good thing that has come out of Kim’s experiences is that she is able to give a helpful list of why people on the autistic spectrum tend to experience bullying, which can be a problem at any age, not just in childhood.

Traits that make autistic individuals vulnerable to bullying (quoted directly from Kim’s book, with my own comments after each item):

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In her book Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate, Cynthia Kim talks about the experience of learning about Asperger’s and seeing how many of the signs were present in her life from an early age, leading to a question: How did nobody notice the signs back then? Asperger’s may not have been defined yet, but she definitely was different from other children her age.

She spent a lot of her time by herself– she felt most content when she could spend hours in her room playing games of Risk and Monopoly against herself, or going on long bike rides around her neighborhood alone.

When I was that age, I was likewise able to entertain myself for hours alone with just a book or a road map or atlas to study. It was hard to shift my attention to something else while I was still exploring it!

Kim writes that another reason she thinks her Asperger’s was harder to spot was an issue that I’ve written about before on this blog: for a number of reasons, boys are much more likely to be diagnosed with Asperger’s than girls are.

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nsicoverOne of the presents on my Christmas list this year was a book about living with Asperger’s syndrome. Nerdy, Shy, and Socially Inappropriate: A User Guide to an Asperger Life was written by Cynthia Kim, a woman who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in her forties.

I’ve really enjoyed learning about other Aspies’ stories and experiences, and seeing the similarities to and differences from my own story as a man diagnosed with Asperger’s in my late twenties and still learning about it in my thirties. I haven’t posted much on this blog for a few years, but I have been writing reflections giving my responses to other books like this one– it’s just that I’ve been sharing them with my girlfriend Megan rather than posting them here. It’s been fascinating getting to hear her perspective too, as I’ve never come across anyone else whose thinking patterns were so similar to mine!

I figured that I’d share some of my reflections with Megan as I read Cynthia Kim’s book, but I also wanted to get back to posting on this site, so I figured I could do both at once! I’ll share about the parts of the book that stand out to me as insightful or that make me think of stories from my own life, and others are welcome to post their comments and questions– including Megan, of course! : )

So, I’ll go ahead and look at the first chapter. (One of the things that is annoying about my obsessively ordered brain is that I always feel like I have to write a big introduction to everything placing what I’m saying in context– it’s one of the reasons I don’t like writing.)

Like me, Cynthia Kim grew up before anybody had defined Asperger’s syndrome or knew anything about it.

For the first few months after learning about Asperger’s I spent a lot of time playing “What if…?”

What if I’d been diagnosed earlier? What if I’d been given the type of supports and accommodations that children on the spectrum receive today? Of course, it’s impossible to know how my life would be different.

I’ve certainly thought about those questions myself. To be honest, though, I have a hard time imagining myself growing up a different way than how I did. If I had known I had Asperger’s, I might have been less hard on myself for the social skills I struggled to learn. But I fear that, if I’d had that Asperger’s label to fall back on, I might not have tried as hard to achieve what I did while I was in school. By God’s grace, I had a wonderful group of classmates who accepted me as I was, even when I was a bit strange, and that bore fruit in a wonderful senior year when I finally opened up to forming friendships with them and found that I enjoyed it! Would that still have happened if I’d thought of myself as “autistic” rather than just “smart, shy, and awkward”? I don’t know.

At the same time, those labels of being “smart” and “shy” affected the way I thought about myself all the way on into adulthood. I really identify with Ms. Kim’s description of her internal reasoning about growing up:

Because I was quiet and did well academically, the adults in my life attributed my difficulties to extreme shyness and timidity. I’d grow out of it eventually and all of my problems would be solved. That explanation carried me into adulthood, where in the back of my mind I was waiting to magically outgrow my social and communication difficulties.

[…]

Decades passed and there I was, still waiting for someone to give me the secret handbook that would explain all those social nuances the people around me seemed to instinctively grasp.

Wow; that is exactly how I felt! I even told my Mom I wanted an “instruction book” that would tell me how to be an adult, because I was nearing the end of my school years, and we still hadn’t covered it.

The assumption is that the shy, quiet boy or girl is just maturing mentally or physically faster than they are socially, and before long, they will “catch up” and it will all even out. That can be true in some cases; all you need to do is be patient, and time will solve the problem.

But in my case, the difficulty I have with social skills are due to the way my brain is configured– it is a learning disability. That doesn’t mean I can’t learn social skills, but it might mean I will have to find a different way of learning them, and using them might never feel quite “normal.” I’m still working on that every day, and it’s not because I’m dumb or lazy!

It’s taken several years for me to “unlearn” the thinking I’d built up that my struggles were my own fault– thankfully God and my parents have been patient! It’s really been a rewarding time of learning and growing for me. I think another quote from Kim describes this sort of thing well.

Since discovering that I’m on the spectrum, I’ve been blogging about my experiences, processing what it means to suddenly be autistic at 42. In a way, I’ve been forced to relearn how to be me. All the things I thought were broken or defective or weird about me? It turns out they’re perfectly normal for people like me. Even more exciting? There actually are other people like me. Lots of them.

I felt like I spent a while after my diagnosis trying to figure out who I am in light of it. And I’ve had the joy of meeting one of those other people like myself. I’m so thankful I met Megan– I’ve learned so much from her and had a lot of fun at the same time!

Anyway, hopefully it won’t be too long until my next book reflection.

Every game in Nintendo’s long-running Legend of Zelda series has essentially the same story, but each one puts a unique spin on the world of Hyrule, adding another layer of depth and richness as the player discovers how the familiar elements come into play.

The latest installment, Breath of the Wild for the Nintendo Switch system, is the most immersive telling of the legend yet. It reminds me the most of my previous favorite in the series, Windwaker, because of its huge world and beautiful cel-shaded graphics.

But while Windwaker used the vastness of the ocean to achieve its large feel, Breath of the Wild has a landscape made up of widely varying climates, absolutely packed with detail. For people who want to get on with the story, it provides a “fast travel” option that allows the hero Link to teleport to places he’s already discovered, but I haven’t used that, preferring to cross country on foot or on horseback and enjoy the sights and experiences I come across along the way.

One of my favorite elements of the game is that it gives you a camera you can use to capture amazing scenery or important information you want to remember. There are dozens of animals in the game, each with its own habitat, behavior, and sound effects programmed in, and as you photograph each species, the game gives you an entry in Link’s “Hyrule Compendium” about the animal. (You can do the same for plants, enemies, and weapons, giving you a total of a few hundred objects to try to capture in photographs.)

My girlfriend Megan is a real-life birdwatcher— she has submitted reports of the birds she’s observed. That gave me the idea of submitting my own virtual birdwatching report on the birds of Hyrule. It’s taken a while, but I’ve finally gotten a photo of each bird in the game.

Sparrows come in six varieties, and I was impressed to find that they differ not just in color but also in behavior.

blue_sparrowBlue sparrows are the easiest variety to find. They prefer temperate zones near mountains, which is the climate of at least half of Hyrule. They are also fairly laid-back, cheery little birds that like to find streams and puddles to bathe in, so you can usually find them just by walking down a road near a brook, especially if it’s raining. Just walk quietly, or stand still, and one may come hopping right up to you to give you a questioning look.

golden_sparrowGolden sparrows live on the outskirts of the Eldin region, which is a volcanic mountain range with the live Death Mountain volcano at its center (where nothing lives except monsters). According to the Hyrule Compendium, their down is resistant to burning, and they eat small insects that hide between the rocks. You can tell when they are nearby when you hear their high-pitched chirping. In other parts of Hyrule, the chirping could be coming from invisible birds in the trees, but in the Eldin region there are no trees.

sand_sparrowSand sparrows are a beautiful reddish-brown color, which helps to camouflage them in the Gerudo Desert. They can be a real challenge to get close to, because it’s hard to move quickly and softly in the desert sand. Link might have to find special Sand Boots to allow him to sneak up on one. There are a lot of dangers in the desert, so these birds can be quite skittish.

red_sparrowRed sparrows are actually a very pale pink. I have only seen them in the vicinity of the Rito Village in northern Hyrule (which, oddly enough, is a village of bird-people). They don’t seem to go up into the frigid mountains surrounding the village, instead scrounging for wild plants and nuts in the foothills.

rainbow_sparrowRainbow sparrows live in the Faron region of Hyrule, which is a bit like a mixture between a swamp and a rainforest. Despite their bold plumage, they seem fairly shy. I could only reliably find them on a certain bridge early in the morning before road traffic scared them away. (That’s why the light in the photo is so dim; it would have been nice to get a picture in full sunlight so that the colors would be more brilliant.)

common_sparrowThe “common” sparrow was the bird I spent the longest time trying to get a photo of! Common they may be, but they are also very easily scared. Their pretty green plumage makes them hard to spot when they are hiding in the grass, too. I can’t count how many times I was sneaking up on the sound of chirping only to hear the flutter of wings and then silence. Even when I had Link wearing stealth gear and using an elixir of stealth, there were any number of things beyond his control that would scare the sparrows away– like a monster suddenly rising up out of the ground, or dropping out of a tree, or another animal blundering through, or even an assassin suddenly appearing to kill Link. (I can just hear Link now, drawing his sword and yelling “YOU SCARED THE BIRDS AWAY!”)

Next are the four varieties of pigeons (or doves) native to Hyrule…

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It’s amazing how much of the trivia of television history is preserved on YouTube.  I recently came across some clips that had been buried fairly deep in my memory– some of my favorite short segments from the children’s educational show Sesame Street.

To be specific, I’m not talking about segments involving the main cast of human characters or Muppets like Bert and Ernie.  I’m talking about the short (30 seconds to a minute) pieces on a variety of subjects that were shown close to randomly in between those.

They could use animation, stop motion, or live action film.  Most were musical, but some had lyrics and others just had interesting pictures set to music.  They seem to have come from a variety of sources– I still have no idea who made most of them.

But a few of them were among my favorites when I was a kid, and I always enjoyed whenever they would show up.  My faint memories of them led me to look them up on YouTube, and I was pleasantly surprised to find all of them there!

So, in no particular order, here are my favorite non-Muppet Sesame Street segments:

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Now it’s time for me to give you the ten summer Olympic events I can most easily imagine myself doing, whether that’s because I have some experience with them, because I think they fit my personality, or just because I think they might be fun.

 

10.  Sailing

I love to watch the sailing competitions.  Boy, do they look like fun.  Cutting through the water on a clear day, leaning out over the side of the small craft to steer it, using your weight to angle the sail and catch the wind just right.

Of course, I don’t know the first thing about operating a boat– it’s complex enough keeping track of where you are going in a motorboat, let alone a tiny sail craft that will capsize if you lean too far.  So I’m under no illusion that it would be easy to learn.

I’d have to start out by asking my girlfriend Megan to give me some lessons in how to pilot a boat– she at least has some experience in the area, even if it wasn’t as tiny a boat as the craft they race in the Olympics.  And that sounds like fun.  : )
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We’re now into events that I have an easier time imagining myself competing in– at least in a dream.  🙂   In this part of the list, the event as a whole might seem fun, but there’s usually one or two things about it that give me pause.

20. Field events

Another big category lumped together. Basically, you have jumping (the long jump, triple jump, high jump, and pole vault) and throwing (the shot put, discus, javelin, and hammer).

I’ve never been terribly interested in these events, but I like the simplicity of just seeing who can jump the farthest or the highest. I used to try to see how far I could jump with a running start when I was a kid (and much more flexible). I liked the feeling of spinning around, too, so I was always entertained by the way athletes use centrifugal force to throw the discus and hammer.

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